Attendance was up and the mood was buoyant at BookExpo American, held June 4-7 in New York. And although in recent years many religion houses have bowed out in favor of trade shows more targeted to their audiences, those who remain still find BEA a valuable investment.

“So much of what’s going on here is about digital, and this has been an important place for us to have meetings with digital booksellers,” said David Lewis, executive v-p of sales and marketing for the Baker Publishing Group, who also meets at BEA with buyers from Barnes & Noble, big-box stores, and general market indies. Baker’s digital business is growing fast, especially internationally. “Half our business in the U.K. is digital now, so we might also go to the London Book fair next year,” Lewis said. He added that print continues to be strong for Baker, even though there are fewer retailers.

In the Hachette aisle, Wendy Grisham, publisher of the new FaithWords imprint Jericho (pictured), said her mission is to publish books that are “radically inclusive,” among them titles for groups that have been marginalized in many Christian churches, such as those in the LGBT community. Beer and cake marked the Wednesday launch party, and the unusual mid-afternoon refreshment pairing reflected the unorthodox strategies behind this Christian imprint. Authors Brian McLaren, Shane Hipps, Justin Lee, and Jay Bakker drew a line to their collective signing for the edgy faith imprint debuting this fall.

McLaren’s agent, Kathy Helmers, noted that publishing and agenting today have become content management. McLaren has been publishing short e-books distinct from his major fall title for Jericho, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (Sept. 11), to build his brand, cross-promote, and attract younger readers through social media and in other online spaces. “It’s a brand-new model, and there aren’t any precedents,” said Helmers, whose agency Creative Trust has a Creative Trust Media division dedicated to working the new landscape.

Also drawing an autograph line was novelist Karen Kingsbury, signing The Bridge (Howard, Oct.), the first in her 10-book exclusive deal with the evangelical Christian imprint of Simon & Schuster. The novel has a winning mix of ingredients: Christmas, an indie bookstore threatened by flood and failing finances, and Kingsbury-style second chances. This was Kingsbury’s first appearance at BEA, and marked Howard’s formal introduction of her to the general trade, where the house seeks to duplicate her phenomenal success in the Christian market.

Steve Gemeiner, director of sales at Moody Publishers, said, “people swarmed” to the publisher’s booth giveaway of 500 pieces of dark chocolate bearing the words “Five Love Languages.” The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, a bestseller-list fixture that has generated a franchise, marks its 20th anniversary this fall. Gemeiner said he was surprised by the amount of international traffic at the show; he fielded many questions about Spanish editions of Moody titles.

Pamela Clements, associate publisher at Abingdon Press, said booksellers were snatching up their galleys. “It feels busier,” she said in comparing this year’s show to previous ones. “I have not been able to get through aisles at times.” Abingdon was promoting its extensive list of fall novels, Christian living titles, and the CEB Deep Blue Kids Bible, a children’s version of the Common English Bible, the new translation commissioned by Abingdon and other mainline Protestant religion publishers.

Tughra Books, which focuses on Islamic traditions, was handing out Turkish delight candy at its booth, enjoying a second year at BEA and raising U.S. awareness of Turkish publishing and publishing about Islam. Huseyin Senturk, director of publications, said Tughra’s list is growing, and its audience of Muslim-Americans is expanding to include a more general audience. The Last 72: Essays on Living the Last 72 Hours of Life edited by Mustafa Tabanli (Oct.), from imprint Blue Dome, “has no religion emphasis,” Senturk said. Tughra has offices in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.: Turkey is the London Book Fair “market focus” for 2013.

Amid the swag, networking, crowds, and galleys, some publishers were even taking orders for books. Publisher Brett Waldman of Tristan Publishing, which publishes inspirational and children’s books, said, “To have those orders is a nice thing.” And while Thomas Nelson withdrew from BEA in 2007, its remainders division always does good business at the show. Said Barry Baird, executive director of Nelson Bargain Books, “Bargain book customers came to buy, and our sales for the show were up. The doom and gloom of the last few years seemed to have vanished, and it is clear we are not yet in a post-print world.”